Monday, May 11, 2009

Finding My Way

"To lose your way is to find it." When one of our trainers told us this Swahili proverb I thought it was one of the dumbest I'd ever heard, but all of a sudden, I kind of get it. That said, I have an announcement: I am leaving Peace Corps.

I have always been of the opinion that when you start something—make a commitment—you find a way to see it through. I knew coming into this that it would be hard, but I was committed to finding a way to get through it. Leaving early was not an option; it didn’t even register as a possibility. It was, as with most things in my life, all or nothing. My decision was that if I got on the plane to go to staging, I would be gone for two years.

Even in training, when I was starting to get an idea of what was coming, I conceded that I may consider leaving after I had fulfilled at least most of my obligation. I didn’t want to leave without making some sort of impact on my organization and community.

And then I just had a total mind shift after getting to site. I want to say that I have spent a lot of time and reflection ensuring that this is not just me running away because it’s hard. I was prepared for hard; that’s not what this is stemming from. I have a strong faith in God and try to live my life according to His will and follow His guiding. A lot of my decision comes from how I feel I’m being led in this regard. While this was not a mistake, it is not where I want to—or feel I should—spend the next two years. The time I’ve been here has been useful; it has allowed me to accomplish many of the goals I set for joining the Peace Corps and served its purpose. Now it’s time to go home. I refuse to spend any more time waking up and wanting to be somewhere else.

In the morning I am off to Nairobi to do all of the closing stuff PC requires. That should take a few days and then I'll be on a plane back to the US. I will fly back to NY and spend some time there with the fam, then head out to HI. Beyond that, I have no clue what I will do, well besides eat everything in sight. I need a job.

Miss you, love you, see you soon!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What a Month

I am back at site after about a month of being away and finally have a minute and a computer to write this. I and the rest of my training group spent ten days in Nairobi for our last phase of training. We stayed at a conference center in dorm-like rooms and ate in a dining hall and had sessions all day, so it was kind of a flashback to college. It was a little strange to be back around so many Americans after living at site, but we all managed it pretty well! Our second night together some of us gave a cooking demonstration in the conference center’s kitchen and managed to start a grease fire that required a fire extinguisher to stop. The food we made was great though! Most of us took every opportunity we could get to eat as much non-Kenyan food —pizza, ice cream, burgers, and sushi—as possible. On Sunday, our one day off, we went to an elephant orphanage nearby to watch the staff feed the elephants. It was super cute and we saw a baby rhino as well. By the last day we were all ready to be done sitting through sessions and sharing rooms.

Another volunteer (Krystle) and I had planned a trip to Uganda following the training, so at 5am we were up and checking out so we could get downtown to our bus. We spent the entire day—7am to 8pm—traveling to the capital of Uganda, Kampala. The roads were much better than I expected and I was exhausted from the busy past weeks, so I slept most of the way. We stayed overnight at a great hostel and then were up bright and early to go rafting on the Nile. Rafting was absolutely amazing and much more terrifying than I expected. We went through eight rapids from class 3 to class 5. Our boat flipped in two of them and I managed to wind up in the water in two more. Krystle was less thrilled than I was about rafting, but she hung in there. The other two guys in our boat were students from Union College who had just completed fellowships in Uganda and Malawi and were a lot of fun. The rafting company owns a campsite overlooking the rapids and we went back there for the night to eat a BBQ and relax. The next day we went back to the hostel in Kampala to meet up with some other PC Kenya volunteers who were also on vacation. We compared notes on our trips so far and traded rafting stories and spent the next day hanging out with them. Then the other group headed back to Nairobi and Krystle and I went to Mbale to visit a family I know there. The next day we went to Sipi Falls, which is a gorgeous set of three waterfalls near Mbale. We had to hike down into a valley and then back up out of it to see the falls. We were pretty unprepared for the hiking, but the views were totally worth it! Between the falls and the awesome hospitality of the family we visited, we had a great time. The next day we returned to Nairobi.

The thing about traveling in East Africa is that the travel itself is half the adventure. It doesn’t sound like we did much in the six days we were in Uganda, but all that time riding in buses and matatus was part of the experience. Especially getting back to Kenya. We made arrangements with a bus company in Kampala to meet our bus at the border rather than do the extra trip back to Kampala. We paid full fare for our tickets and got to the border, only to find out that our bus had taken a different route. After I threw a small temper tantrum in the bus office, we decided to get on a matatu to the next major town in Kenya and go from there. After a ton of hassle and stress, we eventually made it back to Nairobi. I didn’t think I’d ever be so happy to see that crazy city as I was then. Next I got a message from PC asking me to stay in Nairobi for a few more days, so Krystle went back to the coast and I checked into a hotel. There were several other volunteers also around, so we got a little extended vacation hanging out with them and eating more American food. As an extra bonus, I was there on my birthday and even go t to see a movie! I got back to my site last night (after paying 150 extra shillings because it’s back to school week and all the fares are hiked) and am back at work today.

It looks like it rained a lot while I was gone, because everything is green and lush. It’s also gotten a lot cooler here. I may have to buy warmer clothes if it stays like this. Other than that, everything looks pretty much the same. One of the cool things about being in Uganda was comparing it to here. Even though the countries are neighbors, there are a lot of differences. I think overall Uganda feels a lot more laid-back than Kenya. It has plenty of food and water, unlike Kenya, so I guess that makes sense. Between being there and in Nairobi, which is definitely like a different country than the rest of Kenya, it’s going to take some time to readjust to being back at site. Stay tuned…

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I think this is going to be a very mundane post, since I don’t have much to report or any pictures to show, but I wanted to check in at least once this week since I’m not sure I’ll be able to in the next few weeks. Our last phase of training begins on Monday, so we’re all required to be in Nairobi by Sunday evening. I am going to stay with another volunteer Friday and Saturday, and then head down on Sunday. I’ve been looking forward to a break from my routine and seeing everyone for a while. I feel like it’s Christmas Eve and I am about 10 years old I’m so excited.

Last weekend I went to another town to visit a volunteer. The town is right on the equator and at the head of two of the trails to climb Mt Kenya, so it’s much more of a tourist stop than my town. It hustles and bustles while my town shuffles. And the people hustle too, in the rip-off-the-white-tourist kind of way. The other volunteer and I went to the sign that says “You’re on the equator” so I could get a picture. Just as we saw the sign, a man came up to us and told us he wanted to escort us to it. He offered to take our picture for us and show us how water swirls (something about it goes one way on the north side and the other way on the south…google it). The “payment” for all his helpfulness was to go check out his hut of tourist souvenirs. His was number 8 of about 20 huts lined up with the same stuff and the same persistent sellers urging us to come see what they had to offer. He promised us “no hassle” while we looked, which he seemed to define as only harassing us a little as he followed us around and picked up every item he thought I looked at to show us what a good item it was. Most of the stuff was either beaded jewelry or items carved out of wood and stone. Wooden safari animals and bowls were common, and then random animals, chess sets, globes, and even a Scrabble board made out of soapstone or sandstone. I bought a few things to send home, but not much. And of course I had to bargain for them. The man at the first hut I bought from was easy to negotiate with, but the woman at the second hut asked 2500 shillings for something I was going to offer 150 for. We settled on 300, which in my opinion was still too much, but if you convert to US dollars, that’s about $4 and I guess it was ok. I was most excited to buy a woven basket for myself. All of the mamas make them and use them mostly when they go to the market. I’ve been wanting one since training and almost bought one in my town, but I’m glad I held out for this one because I like it better than any other I’ve seen.

After we had seen enough of the same bowls and animals and things, we headed back toward town. And then the sky opened up and poured on us and my new basket. We tried to share an umbrella for a minute, and then gave up and ducked under shelter to wait out the rain. We stayed under cover for about 15 minutes until it was only sprinkling, and then made our way back to the center of town and had chai. It was great to see the other volunteer and even better to do some shopping (I do so little of it here)! I’ve decided not to lug my laptop to Nairobi, so I will be computer free for the 10 days of training and the week following while I’m in Uganda. However, I will get up a full report, hopefully with pictures, when I get back from those adventures, so stay tuned…

Miss you all! Love me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Give Me a Biscuit

The rainy season is here. This means I wake up every morning to gray skies and soggy ground. But by afternoon the sky looks bigger than I’ve ever seen it, a brilliant rain-washed blue with huge puffy clouds crowding each other all around.

This also means that the kids are home on a month-long break. Yesterday town was full of them, and when I went for a walk after work, it was clear that they were in a holiday mood. Let me explain: Children will ask any mzungu for anything that they think they can get: money, candy, pencils, biscuits, your watch, your phone, a bicycle, etc. The common belief is that all white people are rich and can afford to give them something. A lot of times with tourists this is true, but I am a volunteer, and it is very hard to make them believe that I am not rich. Therefore I get asked for a lot of stuff. The culturally sensitive answer (which I have given up on because it doesn’t work) is to respond that I don’t have any of what is being asked for, or maybe tomorrow. I usually just say no, which is perfectly acceptable in the US but all but unheard of in this culture. I say that’s what I’m here for: cultural exchange. This is a conversation I had on my walk:

Children: Mzungu! Mzungu!
Me: Sasa (very informal how are you)
Children: Give me a biscuit (cookie)!
Me: No
Old man walking his bicycle laughs
Old man: The children like to joke with you. They are just playing. (Clearly untrue--they really wanted me to give them cookies.)

Now repeat this exchange about 12 times, add some catcalls, about 20 “howareyous” with plenty of giggling whether I answer or not, and blatant staring from every person I pass, and you’ll get a normal day for me. If anything, I can say I’m working on patience. This is where I take a step back, think about this situation from their cultural perspective rather than mine, which puts a different spin on things. And makes me even more thankful to be an American.

Miss you all. Love me

Saturday, March 28, 2009


If anyone was planning to send mail/packages in the near future, don't send them yet. My address may be changing and I don't want to add to the post office's confusion!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finally, the Mountain!

Today there was not a cloud in the sky. I brought my camera on my evening walk and finally got some pictures of Mt. Kenya. The people here say that the mountain is shy because it usually hides behind clouds, and even today, when the sky was clear, the light was all wrong and the mountain just barely shows up in my pictures.

I’ve been scoping scenic overlooks for viewing the mountain, so I knew exactly where to go today to get some pictures. It happened to be directly in front of a house where these kids had just arrived home from school. As soon as they saw my camera, they yelled “piga picha! Piga picha!” (literally: to beat a picture, meaning take pictures). So I took a few pictures of them, including this one with Mt Kenya in the background. The girl on the left really hammed it up for the camera, which was really funny because people here are generally very formal in pictures and rarely even smile for them.

And then as I was walking the final stretch home, I watched the sun set over the Aberdares (a mountain range west of town). Again, the pictures can’t capture the overwhelming beauty of the landscape and the moment, but they give you an idea.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Language Weekend

During our pre-service training we were told that we’d know we were really getting Kiswahili (the Swahili language—the official language of Kenya) when we started dreaming in it. Well it didn’t happen for me during training, but after three intensive days of studying with three other volunteers and a tutor, I had so much Kiswahili running through my head that I couldn’t sleep. And when I did manage to, I woke up with new sentences running through my head. The good news is that as of now, I am at the required level of language to get the PC off my back about it and will be able to start learning Kikuyu, the language spoken predominantly in my town. I just have to take the test one more time at training in April. Another result is that I’m having a more difficult time communicating in English, as may be evident in this post! Here are Daniel and Gavin studying hard.

And here I am, pretending I know what's going on.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for this language weekend, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. Three other volunteers stayed in my house with me. They helped cook and washed dishes and gave me someone to talk to, so it was a welcome change from my usual solitary routine. I loved having someone else to wash dishes. And someone to make chai (tea) because for some reason I just can’t get the hang of making it; it never tastes as good as when someone else does it, so I gave up making it for myself. We had class as a group each morning with a language tutor (the same one I had for most of training, which was nice because he has a great style of teaching), then went to town for lunch, then we split into two groups (by level of language proficiency) and worked with our tutor separately. We went for walks in the evening which my town loved—instead of a one-mzungu parade they had a whole group! Most importantly, we made some pretty tasty food. Here is Pat cooking up some French toast.

As far as work goes, I’ve got some small projects lined up at the co-op that will help me see how I can be useful to the organization. I also have several books piling up to read and a house to clean (four people in a small space make it dirty a lot faster than one person!), so it looks like my schedule is pretty well filled for the next few weeks. I’m very happy to not be working two jobs and running around all the time, but I get antsy when there’s as little to do as there has been the past few weeks. I think one of the challenges of being a PC volunteer is finding a workable balance of too much and not enough activity. I guess that’s the trick any time, anywhere, and if I can learn it here, I’ll be doing well.

In other news, there’s a new kitten in the compound (well, she’s not exactly new, but she’s new to me). She strolls into the house occasionally looking for food and she’ll let me pet her, so I named her: chui. Ok, technically Jonathan named her, but either way, she has a name. Chui means leopard in Kiswahili.

Miss you all! Love me.